A grieving husband has been filmed carrying his dead wife’s body two miles through the streets so she could be buried after she died of Covid.
The man, named locally as Swamy, was captured on CCTV with the body of wife Nagalaxmi slung over his shoulder making his way through the streets of Kamareddy, a town in southern Telangana state, on April 25.
Police at the local railway station, where she collapsed and died, gave the man money to pay for her burial but refused to touch her for fear of catching the virus – as did passersby along his two-mile route.
The man, who was also unwell according to local media, eventually reached the burial ground where his wife was laid to rest – though had to stop several times along the way to catch his breath.
The tragic scene unfolded as India’s Covid cases and deaths soar, with 3,293 new fatalities reported today pushing the overall total above 200,000 – though analysts warn the true total is likely to be at least double that or more because up to 80 per cent of deaths in India are not officially registered.
The country also reported another 360,960 cases today, a new one-day record, as patients overwhelm hospitals and India’s health system collapses with no end to the crisis in sight.
More video taken at a hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state, underlined the severity of the crisis as it showed bodies lined up in the morgue awaiting identification by relatives so they can be taken for cremation or burial.
As India’s woes mount, it was reported today that…
- Delhi is converting dog crematorium sites to deal with human bodies in addition to public parks, car parks, and abandoned pieces of land as wood also begins to run short amid the wave of deaths
- 25,000 people bathed in the Ganges River Tuesday during the final day of the Kumbh Mela religious festival which was allowed to go ahead despite India’s mounting case toll
- India invited everyone over the age of 18 to book a vaccine, but the website immediately crashed as it got 270,000 hits per minute with 800,000 appointments booked in three hours
- It was revealed that Adar Poonawalla, boss of the Serum Institute of India, has been given a government security detail amid fears he could be attacked over vaccine shortages as factories struggle to meet demand
- Pakistan reported a record one-day Covid death toll amid fears the Indian variant has already spread to the country and medics warning ‘we are the next India’
- Nepal, also a geographical neighbour of India, reported more than 4,000 cases as infections rise rapidly and a number of cities prepare to go into lockdown this week
- Pressure grew on India to halt Premier League cricket as it was revealed sportsmen are being offered jabs despite playing in ‘Covid-secure’ bubbles
A grieving husband was forced to carry the body of his wife for two miles through the streets of Kamareddy, a town in southern India, on April 25 after she collapsed and died of Covid and passersby were too afraid to touch her
The man, named locally as Swamy, was given money to cover the cost of wife Nagalaxmi’s burial, but had to carry her to the local graveyard himself – despite being unwell
Video has revealed bodies piling up in a morgue in India as the country is battered by a second wave of Covid, amid warnings the country’s death toll is a gross under-estimate
Footage shot at a hospital in Ahmadabad four days ago showed the morgue filled with bodies awaiting identification by relatives so they could be buried
India’s official Covid death toll has topped 200,000 as the country is devastated by a second wave of virus, but experts have warned the true toll could easily be double that and perhaps up to five times higher (pictured a victim is buried in Delhi)
India reported 3,293 deaths from the virus on Wednesday and another 360,960 cases, both one-day records, as the current crisis shows no sign of slowing (pictured, a Covid victim is buried in Delhi)
The body of a Muslim victim of Covid is prepared for burial in New Delhi as opposed to Hindu victims, who are typically cremated in line with religious traditions
Bodies are lined up for cremation at a site in New Delhi on Wednesday morning as India’s Covid crisis continues unabated
Hindu tradition stipulates that bodies should be burned within 24 hours of death, meaning crematoriums are now working overtime to deal with the wave of fatalities caused by Covid
Shashikantbhai Parekh, an elderly patient suffering from breathing difficulties, arrives at a hospital in Ahmedabad and is carried inside by medical staff
Nanduba Chavda sits in an ambulance as her husband adjusts her oxygen mask while waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital in the city of Ahmedabad
India reported 3,293 new cases of Covid on Wednesday, a new one-day record, but amid warnings the true toll is likely far higher because the country only counts those who die in hospitals
India also recorded another 360,960 cases of Covid, also a one-day record, as Delhi’s chief minister warned the wave is being driven by a ‘supremely infectious’ variant that causes more severe cases that last longer
India’s Covid response: 1st wave vs 2nd wave
India is suffering the world’s worst second wave of Covid, driven by what the WHO says is a mixture of more infectious variants and government complacency.
While India reacted to the first wave with a complete national shutdown and strict social distancing measures, mass gatherings and political rallies were allowed to go ahead even as the second wave of cases mounted.
Here, MailOnline examines two very different responses that produced two very different results:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the country’s first ‘lockdown’ – a request for everyone to stay at home for 14 hours – on March 22 as cases reached 100 with one death, but followed up with a mandatory nationwide shutdown just three days later as cases hit 600.
All industrial activity was closed down with only essential businesses allowed to open and everyone told to stay in their homes, with measures initially due to last until April 14.
The move caused chaos in a country that relies heavily on migrant labour, as millions of people fled cities for their villages in the countryside – some travelling for days on foot to get there.
Modi subsequently extended the lockdown until May 3 with liquor stores allowed to reopen on May 4 – but they were closed just hours later after drawing huge crowds with police using baton-charges to disperse people. The nationwide lockdown was then extended, first until May 18 and then until June 4.
A gradual unlocking process began June 5 and lasted through to the end of the year, with states slowly reopening their economies while trying to enforce social distancing and mask rules – though in reality many measures were abandoned sooner than scheduled.
As many western countries experienced a second wave of Covid during the winter, the Indian government congratulated itself on what it called ‘victory’ over the virus, as cases and deaths continued to decline even with most lockdown measures lifted.
Normal life was largely allowed to resume with mass political rallies taking place for elections due in March and April – some of which were attended by Modi himself.
The Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela was also given the go-ahead, with millions of devotees gathering on the banks of the Ganges during four months of celebrations that began in January and lasted until this week.
Crowds were also allowed back into sporting events, with England playing India in front of stands of maskless fans in January.
In February, with infections at their lowest point, the ruling BJP party passed a resolution that declared ‘victory’ against Covid ‘under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi’.
But just days later, cases began rising again and have now hit record levels, accounting for more than 40 per cent of global daily totals.
Despite the situation deteriorating throughout March and then rapidly worsening in April, it was not until April 15 that Mumbai declared a city-wide lockdown to try and slow the spread, with Delhi following suit on April 19.
Several states – including Karnataka and Assam – have now applied Covid curbs to try and contain cases, election victory parades have been largely banned, and Modi has passed emergency orders to try and get medical supplies to overrun hospitals.
However, there has been no talk of another nationwide shutdown even as the country’s healthcare system all-but collapses due to the weight of cases.
India appears instead to be relying on vaccines to get itself out of trouble, with appointments offered to anyone over the age of 18 starting today.
But it will take months at least to inoculate enough people to reach herd immunity even if India – which produces most of the world’s vaccines – can manufacture enough jabs for its 1.4billion population.
In the meantime, doctors warn that packing people into vaccination centres is helping to spread Covid and that more measures are needed to stop the virus spreading.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejrilwal warned today that the wave is being driven by a ‘supremely contagious’ variant of the disease which is causing more severe cases of Covid that take longer to recover from, pushing hospitals past their limits.
It came as investigations by Indian newspapers at cremation grounds suggested the true death toll could be double the official figures due to under-counting by officials, a lack of tests meaning Covid deaths cannot be confirmed, and patients being left to die on the streets or at home without the deaths being medically certified.
One cremation ground in Bangalore recorded 3,104 cremations of Covid victims during March and April, the Times of India reports, but official government figures for the city only logged 1,422 Covid deaths in that period.
Another investigation by NDTV found that crematoriums in Delhi recorded 3,096 Covid cremations last week, while the official Covid death tally stood at just 1,938.
Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times that his modelling suggests India’s death toll is at least double the official tally, but could be up to five times higher.
Testing shortages, common in countries overwhelmed by the virus, are further suppressing the official count while The Telegraph reports that some states are not logging deaths as Covid-related if there is a comorbidity that contributed to the death.
‘I can easily say that around 1,000 Covid-19 cases are getting funerals every day. This figure is seven to eight times higher than the official figures,’ the manager of one crematorium in Delhi told the newspaper
In a frank admission to BBC Radio 4, Narendra Taneja – a leader in the ruling BJP party – said today that ‘nobody knows’ the true death toll in India, but denied the government is deliberately covering up deaths.
‘In a country like India, a huge country, you can’t hide a death in this country, if there is any mismatch that will come out,’ he said.
In India, mortality data was poor even before the pandemic, with most people dying at home and their deaths often going unregistered. The practice is particularly prevalent in rural areas, where the virus is now spreading fast. This is partly why the nation of nearly 1.4 billion has recorded fewer deaths than Brazil and Mexico, which have smaller populations and fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases.
While determining exact numbers in a pandemic is difficult, experts say an overreliance on official data that didn’t reflect the true extent of infections contributed to authorities being blindsided by a massive surge in recent weeks.
‘People who could have been saved are dying now,’ said Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University, who said there has been ‘serious undercounting’ of deaths in many states.
India had thought the worst was over when cases ebbed in September. But infections began increasing in February, and on Wednesday, 362,757 new cases, a new global record, raised its total confirmed cases past 17.9 million, second only to the U.S.
Local media have reported discrepancies between official state tallies of the dead and actual numbers of bodies in crematoriums and burial grounds. Many crematoriums have spilled over into parking lots and other empty spaces as blazing funeral pyres light up night skies.
India’s daily deaths, which have nearly tripled in the last three weeks, also reflect a shattered and underfunded health care system. Hospitals are scrambling for more oxygen, beds, ventilators and ambulances while families marshal their own resources in the absence of a functioning system.
Jitender Singh Shunty runs an ambulance service in New Delhi transporting COVID-19 victims’ bodies to a temporary crematorium in a parking lot. He said those who die at home are generally unaccounted for in state tallies, while the number of bodies have increased from 10 to nearly 50 daily.
‘When I go home, my clothes smell of burnt flesh. I have never seen so many dead bodies in my life,’ Shunty said.
Burial grounds are also filling up fast. The capital’s largest Muslim graveyard is running out of space, said Mohammad Shameem, the head gravedigger, noting he was now burying nearly 40 bodies a day.
In southern Telangana state too, doctors and activists are contesting the official death counts.
On April 23, the state said 33 people had died of COVID-19. But between 80 to 100 people died in just two hospitals in the state’s capital, Hyderabad, the day before. It’s unclear whether all were due to the virus, but experts say COVID-19 deaths across India aren’t being listed as such.
Instead, many are attributed to underlying conditions despite national guidelines asking states to record all suspected virus deaths, including ‘presumptive deaths’ – those who likely died of COVID-19 but weren’t tested for it.
For instance, New Delhi officially recorded 4,000 COVID-19 deaths by Aug. 31, but this didn’t include suspected deaths, according to data accessed by The Associated Press under a right-to-information request.
Fatalities have since more than tripled to over 14,500. Officials didn’t respond to queries on whether suspected deaths were now being included.
In Lucknow, officials said 39 people died of the virus in the city on Tuesday. But Suresh Chandra, who operates its Bhaisakhund electric crematorium, said his team had cremated 58 COVID-19 bodies by Tuesday evening, and another 28 bodies were cremated at a nearby crematorium the same day.
Ajay Dwivedi, a government official in Lucknow, acknowledged more bodies were being cremated but said they included bodies from other districts.
Last year, the Indian government used low death and case counts to declare victory against the coronavirus. In October, a month after cases started to ebb, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India was saving more lives than richer countries. In January he boasted at the World Economic Forum that India’s success was incomparable.
At the crux of these statements was dubious data which shaped policy decisions and blindsided authorities.
Covid-ravaged India suffers an earthquake
A powerful 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Covid-ravaged India today, sending terrified residents fleeing as the aftershocks were felt for hundreds of miles.
The US Geological Survey said the epicentre was in a hilly region in Assam state near India’s border with Bhutan.
There have been no reports of casualties so far, with residents saying the main human toll was stress, minor cuts and bruises.
It comes as India is in the throes of a savage second wave of coronavirus, with more than 360,000 cases recorded on Wednesday as the death toll soared over 200,000.
Fortunately northeastern India, where this morning’s quake struck, has not yet experienced a widespread outbreak of coronavirus, being more sparsely populated than the central and western states.
The quake was felt for hundreds of miles, as far away as the state of Bengal, as well as neighbouring Bhutan and Bangladesh.
It rocked Tezpur, a city of 100,000 people, located just 28 miles from the epicentre.
‘It lasted more than 20 seconds and we were really scared,’ Tezpur resident Swati Deb Dey said.
‘The walls shook as we ran downstairs and even outside the road was moving. Everyone is shocked,’ she added.
Information about where people were getting infected and dying could have helped India better prepare for the current surge, said Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto who has studied deaths in India.
This would have allowed experts to map the virus more clearly, identifying hotspots, driving vaccinations and strengthening public health resources.
‘You can’t walk out of a pandemic without data,’ he said.
But even when reliable data is available, it hasn’t always been heeded. With infections already rising in March, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan declared India was nearing the ‘endgame.’
When daily cases were in the hundreds of thousands, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and other political parties were holding massive election rallies, drawing thousands of maskless supporters.
The government also allowed a Hindu festival drawing hundreds of thousands to the banks of the Ganges River to go ahead despite warnings from experts that a devastating surge was starting.
Many were already convinced COVID-19 wasn’t very lethal since the death toll seemed low. These decisions, experts say, added to nonchalance as the nation let its guard down.
India’s federal health ministry hasn’t responded to queries from AP, and ministers from Modi’s party deflected questions about death counts.
Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana state, told reporters Monday that the dead will never come back and that ‘there was no point in a debate over the number of deaths.’
But Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, said undercounting deaths is a ‘harsh reality.’
The Indian Medical Association in February said 734 doctors had died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Days later, India’s health ministry put the number at 313.
‘This is criminal,’ said Bhatti. ‘The government lied about the deaths of health workers first and now they are lying about deaths of ordinary citizens.’
An elderly Covid patient is given oxygen at a Sikh Gurdwara, or place of worship, in the city of Ghaziabad after hospitals overflowed and were unable to treat her
A woman suffering from breathing difficulties due to Covid waits to get oxygen at a Sikh Gurudwara in Ghaziabad
An elderly patient suffering with Covid lies in the back of a car as they are given oxygen by a Sikh worker at a Gurdwara in the city of Ghaziabad, India
Studies at cremation grounds in Delhi (pictured) and Bangalore found that thousands of Covid victims were being brought for cremation that are not being logged in official statistics
Cremation workers in Delhi prepare a body to be burned, with staff now working night and day in order to keep up with the demand. Hindu tradition stipulates that a body should be burned within 24 hours of the person’s death
Crematorium workers in Delhi build makeshift fire pits on spare land next to a motorway in order to keep up with demand which has rocketed as the country is battered by a second wave of virus
Makeshift cremation pits are constructed next to a highway in Delhi, with public parks, car parks, and gardens all repurposed to deal with a mountain of bodies caused by the Covid pandemic
A mass funeral takes place for COVID-19 victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi
Relatives of Covid victims and crematorium workers stand by the smouldering remains of funeral pyres in New Delhi
Fears of Indian Covid variant outbreak in Leicester
Three cases of the Indian Covid variant have been spotted in Leicester, sparking a testing blitz at a school to snuff out any potential cases.
The strain, linked to an explosion in cases in India, has officially been detected 132 times in the UK but experts say there are likely hundreds more.
Leicester’s public health director Professor Ivan Browne said the Indian variant cases were all being investigated, isolated and contact-traced.
Health chiefs have not yet ordered surge testing in the city because there is no evidence it is spreading in the community. Professor Browne said ‘targeted testing’ was being carried out at a local school ‘as a precautionary measure’.
The school has not been named and it is not known whether the cases of the B.1.617 variant are among pupils or staff members.
Positive tests in a school may rattle health chiefs because it’s likely the infected staff or pupils came into contact with other people.
City council bosses said the people had travelled before India was added to Britain’s red list on Friday, but they didn’t specify whether they went to India itself. Number 10 has been heavily criticised for being too slow to adopt tougher rules.
Leicester — which has repeatedly been a Covid hotspot — has the second biggest Indian community in England, with around 38,000 people making up 28 per cent of the city’s population.
In the capital, New Delhi, ambulances now line up for hours to take COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows of funeral pyres.
Coronavirus sufferers, many struggling for breath, flocked to a Sikh temple on the city’s outskirts, hoping to secure some of its limited supplies of oxygen.
Hospitals in and around the Indian capital said oxygen remains scarce, despite commitments to step up supplies.
‘We spend the day lowering oxygen levels on our ventilators and other devices as our tanks show alarmingly dipping levels,’ Dr Devlina Chakravarty, the managing director of the Artemis hospital in the suburb of Gurgaon, wrote in the Times of India newspaper.
‘We make hundreds of calls and send messages every day to get our daily quota of oxygen.’
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrilwal said people were falling sick more severely and for longer periods, stacking up the pressure. ‘The current wave is particularly dangerous,’ he said.
‘It is supremely contagious and those who are contracting it are not able to recover as swiftly. In these conditions, intensive care wards are in great demand.’
Police said a fire early on Wednesday at a hospital on the outskirts of the financial capital of Mumbai killed four people and injured several more.
Accidents at hospitals have become a special concern as India runs short of beds and oxygen supplies. Last week a fire at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients and a leaking oxygen tank at another killed 22 people.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Pakistan, authorities reported 201 deaths from coronavirus, the country’s highest single-day toll of the pandemic so far.
According to National Command and Control Center, 5,292 new cases were also reported in the past 24 hours.
Officially, Pakistan has no cases of the Indian variant but testing in the country is limited, meaning it could have crossed the border undetected.
Nervous ministers have therefore put in place tough new measures such as a 6pm curfew and mandatory mask wearing in an attempt to prevent the scenes in India being repeated.
Pakistan is also planning a lockdown in the worst-hit cities in the first week of May.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has resisted demands for a nationwide lockdown, citing its economic impact, but he has also warned that he will be forced to impose a lockdown if people do not stop violating social distancing rules.
Back in Delhi, supplies of foreign aid have begun arriving including ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain, with more sent from Australia, Germany and Ireland.
‘First shipment of oxygen generators from #Taiwan to #India is leaving this week,’ Kolas Yotaka, a spokeswoman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, said on Twitter. ‘We are all in this together.’
Prime Minister Modi said he had spoken to Russia’s President Putin over the phone on Wednesday, and the Russian leader had promised to deliver aid.
Prince Charles calls on world leaders to ‘help India’
Heir to the throne Charles said the British Asian Trust, which he founded in 2007, has launched an Oxygen For India emergency appeal.
It will raise funds for oxygen concentrators to be sent to the hospitals and patients most in need.
Photographs showing the devastating impact of the disease in India in recent days revealed how crematoriums are so overrun officials have taken to burning bodies using funeral pyres.
The prince said: ‘Like many others, I have a great love for India and have enjoyed many wonderful visits to the country. Indian aid and ingenuity has been a support to other countries through this immensely difficult time.
‘As India has helped others, so now must we help India.’
He said those suffering from the disease in India were in his ‘thoughts and prayers’, adding: ‘Together, we will win this battle.’
‘Vladimir Putin expressed words of support to Narendra Modi in this difficult period in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus infection and informed him about the decision to provide India with emergency humanitarian aid,’ the Kremlin said in a statement.
It added that the Russian deliveries will include ’20 units of equipment for the production of oxygen, 75 artificial lung ventilation devices, 150 medical monitors and 200,000 packages of medicines’.
The Kremlin said Modi ‘warmly thanked the President of Russia for the assistance provided, which is largely of a high-tech nature and is in great demand in the country’.
The Russian news agency RIA Novosti cited the trade and industry ministry as saying that the 200,000 medicine packages would be favipiravir, an antiviral medication.
The news agency also cited the emergencies ministry as saying that two transport planes would carry the ‘more than 22 tonnes (48,500 pounds) of medical equipment’ from Russia to India.
Several countries have suspended flights from India, among measures to keep out more virulent variants of the virus.
Credit rating agency S&P Global said India’s second wave of infections could impede its economic recovery and expose other nations to further waves of outbreaks.
The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, was susceptible to contagion from the highly infectious variants in India, given the region’s low ratios of vaccination, it added.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he had spoken at length with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues such as when the United States would be able to ship vaccines to the South Asian nation, and added that it was his clear intention to do so.
‘I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines, as well as know-how, with other countries who are in real need. That’s the hope and expectation,’ he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
Relatives carry a woman who fainted after seeing the body of her husband at a government COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad
Health workers attend to a colleague who fainted due to exhaustion and long working hours at a COVID-19 testing center in New Delhi, India
A health worker gives cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a COVID-19 patient waiting to be attended to inside an ambulance outside a government COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad
Shruti Saha, who had been waiting since Tuesday night for her turn to get oxygen at a refilling centre in Delhi, is informed that she has died before she could reach the front of the line
A woman and her son arrive at a Delhi oxygen refilling centre to get a tank topped up for their sick relative
A municipal official, right in blue, reprimands a restaurant owner, in white for not adhering to guidelines during a lockdown imposed due to rising number of COVID-19 cases in Bengaluru
The U.S. State Department’s coordinator for global COVID-19 response, Gayle Smith, warned that India’s challenge called for a sustained effort: ‘We all need to understand that we are still at the front end of this. This hasn’t peaked yet.’
Anthony Facui, the top US infectious disease expert, also warned today that wealthy countries need to do more to protect countries such as India – and that leaders had failed to mount a global response to the pandemic.
‘The only way that you’re going to adequately respond to a global pandemic is by having a global response, and a global response means equity throughout the world,’ he said.
Facui spoke as America works to divvy up a stockpile of some 60million AstraZeneca vaccines that it likely will not use between developing nations, with India thought to be the priority.
Asked today whether the UK will be giving any vaccines to India, transport secretary Grant Shapps refused to say, but added that the situation in the country is ‘horrific’ and Britain is looking at ways to help.
Meanwhile the Prince of Wales sent a message to the people of India, saying he is ‘deeply saddened by the tragic images we have all seen as Covid-19 takes its horrific toll’.
Heir to the throne Charles said the British Asian Trust, which he founded in 2007, has launched an Oxygen For India appeal to raise funds for oxygen concentrators to be sent to the hospitals and patients most in need.
The prince said: ‘Like many others, I have a great love for India and have enjoyed many wonderful visits to the country. Indian aid and ingenuity has been a support to other countries through this immensely difficult time.
‘As India has helped others, so now must we help India.’
He added: ‘I would also want those suffering the effects of this pandemic in India to know that they are in my thoughts and prayers. Together, we will win this battle.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT?
Real name: B.1.617
When and where was it discovered? The variant was first reported by the Indian government in late March.
But the first cases appear to date back to October 2020.
It has been detected in 21 countries as of April 19, Public Health England bosses say.
How many people in the UK have been infected with it? Public Health England figures show 132 cases of the Indian variant have now been spotted in the UK, including 55 in the past week.
Three people who caught the mutant strain in the past week had no travel links, suggesting the virus is spreading in the community.
But scientists say the true figure will be much higher because it takes up to three weeks for virus samples to be thoroughly analysed in a laboratory.
What mutations does it have? It has 13 mutations that separate it from the original Covid virus that emerged in China — but the two main ones are named E484Q and L452R.
Scientists suspect these two alterations can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants.
Is it more infectious and can it evade vaccines? The L452R mutation is also found on the Californian variant (B.1.429), even though the two evolved independently. It is thought to make the American strain 20 per cent more infectious.
The E484Q mutation is very similar to the one found in the South African and Brazil variants known as E484K, which can help the virus evade antibodies.
The South African variant is thought to make vaccines about 30 per cent less effective at stopping infections, but it’s not clear what effect it has on severe illness.
Professor Sharon Peacock, of PHE, claimed there was ‘limited’ evidence of E484Q’s effect on immunity and vaccines. Lab studies have suggested it may be able to escape some antibodies, but to what degree remains uncertain.
How deadly is it? Scientists still don’t know for sure. But they are fairly certain it won’t be more deadly than the current variants in circulation in Britain.
This is because there is no evolutionary benefit to Covid becoming more deadly. The virus’s sole goal is to spread as much as it can, so it needs people to be alive and mix with others for as long as possible to achieve this.
And, if other variants are anything to go by, the Indian strain should not be more lethal.
There is still no conclusive evidence to show dominant versions like the Kent and South African variants are more deadly than the original Covid strain – even though they are highly transmissible.
Doctors in India claim there has been a sudden spike in Covid admissions among people under 45, who have traditionally been less vulnerable to the disease.
There have been anecdotal reports from medics that young people make up two third of new patients in Delhi. In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year.
There is still no proof younger people are more badly affected by the new strain.
Should we be worried? Scientists are unsure exactly how transmissible or vaccine-resistant the Indian variant is because it hasn’t been studied thoroughly.
The fact it appears to have increased infectivity should not pose an immediate threat to the UK’s situation because the current dominant Kent version appears equally or more transmissible.
It will take a variant far more infectious strain than that to knock it off the top spot.
However, if the Indian version proves to be effective at slipping past vaccine-gained immunity, then its prevalence could rise in Britain as the immunisation programme squashes the Kent variant.
The UK currently classes the Indian strain as a ‘Variant Under Investigation’, a tier below the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants. But there are calls to move it up to the highest category.
Scientists tracking the constantly-evolving virus say it’s still not clear if India’s third wave has been caused by the variant, or if it emerged at the same time by coincidence.